Highlands to increase recycling to 42%

Following a recent consultation exercise that revealed a Highland penchant for recycling and composting, the Highland Waste Strategy Group has announced its ‘best practicable environmental option’ proposals for waste management in the area over the next 20 years.

Recycling and composting is due to increase from a current 2% to 42% under the plans, helped by proposed kerbside collection schemes and high-tech composting sites. Waste going to landfill will reduce from 98% to 28%, aided by an energy-from-waste programme.

Plans to change the way in which the 500,000 tonnes of waste produced annually in the area is disposed of have been in development for two years. All of the options were rigorously assessed against sustainability criteria. The chosen option will cost around £275million over 20 years and is expected to create 1300 full-time jobs.

The proposed Area Waste Plan was also the option with the lowest environmental impact in terms of air, land, water, global warming and depletion of non-renewables. It will be published later this year, and will set out how the proposals will be achieved.

The plan’s agenda includes:

  • new waste minimisation initiatives to encourage waste avoidance, reduction and re-use both at home and in business;
  • kerbside recycling collection schemes that will end long trips to recycling banks;
  • composting plants around the area including high-tech ‘in-vessel’ systems that will make high quality compost for local use;
  • energy from waste schemes for waste that is not easily recycled or composted, which may include incineration, pyrolysis or gasification – the latter two involve heating rather than burning; and
  • landfill as a last resort, but substantially reduced over the 20 year period.

“We have gathered sound data to inform our decision, looked objectively at the options open to us, consulted widely with the public and come to a decision which we feel is the best for the Highlands,” said Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) co-ordinator for the work, Lorna Walker.

“The views of the public consultation fully informed this decision – we’ve put the recycling and composting rates up as far as we feel will ultimately be possible, and decreased the potential size of the energy from waste plant,” said Walker.

Tom Anderson, who chairs the SEPA group that made the decision, added: “Only a year or two ago, talking about such high levels of recycling rates would have been seen as revolutionary.”

“The agreement we have today is truly a breakthrough and, hopefully, will see the Highlands going from the bottom of the European recycling league to the top,” said Anderson. “There is a lot of hard work to be done, not least in securing funds for these improvements. But with strong partnership backing we are optimistic that our plan can be achieved.”

The Highland Council’s head of waste strategy, Henderson Pollock, noted that the authority is still considering tenders from two private sector companies to deliver the plan. The finalised details will now be given to the bidders, who will then make their final bids. “If we can, in time, secure all the necessary markets for recyclable materials, and get the additional Executive funding needed, we can achieve the desired result,” said Pollock.

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